Government minister Maria Miller says that the clash between the three big political parties and the main newspaper lords can be finessed.
Newspaper publishers will be free to decide whether or not to sign up to the royal charter on press regulation which will eventually lead to a “recognition panel” being set up to vet the regulatory body. In the meantime, says Miller, she encourages “the press to go forward with their own self-regulatory body”.
She may even be right. The differences between the government’s scheme and the newspaper lords’ is thin. Both include the most worrying proposal to come out of the Leveson inquiry: that smaller publications, like Solidarity, outside the regulatory framework, will be liable to increased punitive damages for libel.
At the same time, the government is mooting plans to shift Britain’s libel law, which is already a much stronger defence mechanism for litigious rich people than in other countries, to make it even easier to sue.
Neither government nor newspaper lords’ plans would do anything to restrain future abuses like the phone-hacking for which Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson are now on trial. Both are former News of the World editors, both are close friends of the Tory leadership, and Coulson was “communications director” for David Cameron.
From the prosecution evidence presented so far, it is hard to see how Brooks and Coulson can get off, but they have hired deft and expensive lawyers.
The newspaper lords, driven by profit and attuned to the interests and ideas of the rich, are not fit people to control our flow of news.
The presses and communications and distributions networks should be taken into public ownership, put under democratic control, and made available to every sizeable body of opinion that wants to publish.